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THE LAST SAMURAI

The Troops
The company moved to New Plymouth, New Zealand, in January 2003, after a worldwide location search determined that this was the best locale in which to replicate certain 19th century Japanese vistas.

"Aesthetics is a very important part of the culture, particularly the natural aesthetic, the land," says Zwick. "One of the great tragedies is that there is so much less open land available in Japan today. Many Japanese come to New Zealand because of its beauty." Citing the countries' similar topography, he adds, "Because it's a volcanic island not unlike Japan, we hoped to embody here that aesthetic from an earlier age. The Japan we created is one of imagination in that it no longer exists, but I think we got as close as we could."

The production scale was huge. Between 300 and 600 Japanese extras appeared in the film on any given day and 400 New Zealanders were employed in every department, from wardrobe to construction and set decorating to camera. The rest of the 200-300 crew members came from the United States, England, Australia and, of course, Japan – nearly every department included at least one Japanese representative as part of the working crew and/or as a translator. On days involving scenes with huge numbers of extras, the shooting crew numbered approximately 1,000 and work began at 3 AM for many of the hair, make-up and wardrobe personnel, who styled all the sculptural hair-dos, tied the kimonos, hakama and haori in the traditional Japanese manner and fit the armor.

This inundation of people and material was a new experience for New Plymouth, where the tourist trade caters mostly to surfers, backpackers and outdoor enthusiasts eager to tackle Mt. Taranaki in Egmont National Park or enjoy the uncrowded beaches of the Tasman Sea. The local Daily News assigned a reporter to track the filming and a radio station put up a $5,000 "bounty" for whomever could deliver a live interview with Cruise. The competition ended nicely when Cruise himself called in after a night shoot and matched the prize with the proviso that the entire sum be donated to a local school.

In the search for extras to appear as Katsumoto's loyal Samurai, the casting department found 75 Japanese residents of Auckland, a five-hour drive from New Plymouth. Additionally, stunt coordinator Nick Powell hand-picked a group of novice Japanese actors to become his "core" Samurai. None were professional stunt men and only two could ride horses, but all were athletic and enthusiastic. After two weeks of rigorous training, they proved their mettle, shooting arrows and participating in complicated Kendo drills like experts and, in one particularly impressive display, riding horses at high speed down a hill while firing arrows with no hands on the reins.

The production next staffed the Japanese Imperial Army by finding some 600 extras in Japan and putting them through boot-camp to become a credible military force. They learned to march and drill, to handle and fire a rifle, to lunge, parry and thrust a sword, to work with a bow and arrow, and to manage "movie" hand-to-hand combat.

"Their dedication and motivation truly impressed me," says the film's military advisor Jim Deaver. "They came from all walks of life. Some were actors, some shopkeepers, drivers or college students but all of them were eager to learn, to represent their culture and their country and, to a great extent, their ancestors. Their progress was remarkable, considering that they began with very little English and quickly learned to respond to English and Japanese commands, to move from a skirmish back into platoon formation and how to route-step on a dirt road." All this occurred during the summer heat, the s

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